Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Spring! The sun’s coming out, the foxes are frolicking in our garden and the album of the year so far just keeps on getter better and better. Bon Iver (as in French for 'good winter') is Mr Justin Vernon and the album is For Emma, Forever Ago. I tracked it down based on a recommendation from the Guardian’s Laura Barton, who’s quietly become their best music writer. In her rapturous piece, she’d said her usual listening habits had been disrupted by For Emma, which she was more or less compelled to listen to on a continuous loop. I now know how she feels.

The story goes that Vernon retreated to a cabin in rural Minnesota to get over a pretty disastrous relationship. Living only on beer and deer meat, he wrote and recorded the album in just a couple of months. Yet there's far more to For Emma than just backwoods verite. True, there are squeaking frets, sharp intakes of breath and the ambient sounds of rural America twittering away in the background.

But the music itself is something else, uncharted territory. There's something of Elliott Smith, of Neil Young perhaps, The Band - even Prince on The Wolves Act One (and check out those tiny moments of auto-tune!). But there are ghosts milling in these songs; something sacred. The wind in the wires, the strange drones, the wide spectrum of Vernon's chorus of angelic voices (it’s often impossible to tell which is supposed to be the lead voice). It's secular church music. The lyrics tumble across odd time signatures: “Gloomy feathers on the flume”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds lovely.

Along with Ane Brun's Changing of the Seasons, this is my album of the year; everyone else is going to have to go some if they want to improve on this startling, haunted debut.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton

A moving piece from Marcello on Humphrey Lyttelton:

" [...] A fine and unrepeatable man who never got bored with opening doors, ever eager to move on to the next chapter - standing gainly and gladly outside any restricting glasshouses, and never once wanting or needing to throw stones."

And who else could deliver a single entendres as unassailably perfect as:

"Samantha tells me she has to nip off to meet her new gentleman friend who's been ringing her all day in a grumpy mood. Despite being very busy, Samantha says she can always find time to handle his testy calls."
Cheers Humph.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

London Lite etc


The free paper plague is infesting all areas of London life. From dawn to dusk... Arriving at the station in the morning, the Metro already piled up, waiting. Leaving the train, slipping into your somnambulent self, commuter character armour freezing into place, automatically making the Waste Land walk across London Bridge ('I had not thought that death had undone so many'), the way already blocked by reps proferring City AM. (London Bridge is a film set now (hyperreal city): there's barely a day where there isn't a camera crew or some out of work actors playing a bit part in some promotional pantomime.) And in the evening, rushing to escape the black hole of the city, you have to play live-action Pac Man with the London Lite and the londonpaper drones blocking the pavement every few yards. As if London needed people - poorly paid members of the city's immigrant subproletariat, at that - actually being employed to obstruct the pavement. In the train, the free papers are everywhere, their dull gloss a lurid temptation for the drained mind ... cut and pasted PR ... nothing happening forever ... cocaine celebrities ... a survey says... join in the debate... vote: more or bore... your texts... consume it and feel lulled and sullied... Semiotic parasites designed to prey upon hypnagogic drift. Weapons against the city's intelligence. Almost no-one reads books any more. London litened, littered, public transport desolated into a time waste land. Look around the carriage, snapshot of a MySpaced city: diversity without difference, homogeneity without communality - bodies reduced to claustrophobic zombie meat fighting for space, background hum of mutual hostility simmering, yet everyone is reading the same thing...
Couldn't agree more. I angrily shake my head and reject the proffered paper - then get attack of self-loathing that I've been so rude. And this happens at least twice a day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Tindersticks - The Hungry Saw

The Man in Amsterdam waxes lyrical about Devotchka's lovely record. Annoyingly, they were a bit forgettable on Later… (mind you, so were Portishead)

Thinking of the Devotchka's sound, which makes the Yes think of fine Bavarian clockwork, for no good reason (and a host of poor ones), we offer up The Tindersticks' fine new album The Hungry Saw (Beggar's Banquet). It's their first record in five years and, yes, Stuart still has that endearingly mumbly-whuh voice of his in full effect (the title track has him mumbling low-down and then mumbling high-up). Oh, but the shades here - it's a rich and dark and velvety album, like The The's Dusk without the aggro. There are so many chewy chocolately chord progressions here, swishing like the plushest brocade (to mix metaphors with cavalier abandon).

Somehow, I like this even more than Simple Pleasure, which snuck out of nowhere to become one of the best of 1999.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Radiohead at the Beeb

Embedded Image

Um, yes another post about Radiohead. It's OK, I'm in control, I can kick this thing whenever I want, etc.

I phoned up for gig tix on the off-chance, so colossally bummed was I that I'd failed to hear about their gig at 93 Feet East; lo and behold, the BBC phone me up to tell me that I've won a pair of tickets to see Radiohead play at the BBC radio theatre in front of 400 people. Sure, I think. Why not?

This was the 7th time I've seen them, and while it was the shortest set I've seen them play (about an hour), it was the best, for a bunch of reasons.

A) We were sitting down, which is perfect for wannabe oldsters like us. B) We were so close - some 12 rows back. C) It was classy from the off - this being the BBC, they'd laid on the full rig of smoke, lights, strobe etc. D) As you might expect for a live national broadcast, they'd got the sound just so (listening back the day after, it was amazing how much sound degradation occurs over the Radio. In the flesh, the sound was pristine, loud, and crystalline). E) The band were just on fire - dancing along to Iggy's Lust for Life, Thom mouthing the words as they wait for the live broadcast to begin, then giggling at Mark Radcliffe's intro (something to the effect of "welcome to our way of filling an hour's air-time until Gardener's World. We've got with us a young beat combo who'll be playing a selection of party hits" etc) and THEN launching into a suped-up and super-snarling Bodysnatchers, a song made for live performance, its frantically crashing symbols a backdrop to the super-condensed riffage of all three guitarists.

Highlights? How about Airbag, if you please. That song's never sounded so good, all those crazy cross-riffs and counter-chords, your ears losing the battle to follow all the harmonic ideas being sketched and then elaborated and then a dancing Colin all excited about the bassline he's about to detonate ooooh there it is… Or what about Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, my current favourite RH song, and therefore my single favourite piece of music in the world as of now; the cresting guitar lines of the opening ascent make us grin stupidly, and we get the scalp tingle like a breaking wave as the dark churn of the final coda crashes over us. Or Lucky? So fresh and majestic. As always, it was entrancing to watch Jonny wring ghostly or serpentine or plain weird sounds from his guitar, not to mention his massive bank of gear.

And a special mention for Nude. It took them ten years to get this song right. That's ten years well spent. Live it's just so beautiful, Thom's voice intertwining with the off-beat bass pulse and spectral synths to beguiling effect.

If they're half as good at Victoria Park, it’s going to be something else.

Radiohead at the BBC